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THE LITTLE GENERALS; BROTHERS IN ARMS: They are only They claim to be saviours chosen by God to save their people from the evil Burmese army.

THERE is a crunch of bamboo and the first of four bodyguards appears and scans the clearing. Then the 12-year-old commander of God's Army of the Holy Mountain arrives.

Luther Htoo wears a short-sleeved khaki shirt with an Airforce One badge on his right arm. On his forearm is the tattoo of a fish pierced with a spear.

One of the bodyguards passes him a lit cheroot, then he spits and climbs on to his bodyguard's knee. His special protector is called Rambo, a 28-year-old fighter. He likes playing with Rambo's long, thick, black hair.

Luther, the leader of the youngest and most desperate guerrilla army in the world, accepts a biscuit. He says his younger twin, Johnny, the second-in- command, might be along later.

The meeting with the twins has taken two months to arrange.

God's Army of the Holy Mountain was born three years ago when the Burmese Army launched operation Spirit King to wipe out the Karen people and secure the route of a multi-million pound gas and oil pipeline.

More than 100,000 Karen fled to refugee camps across the Thai border.

The pipeline will earn the British company Premier Oil - which includes Japanese and Thai oil companies and the brutal Burmese regime - almost pounds 500 million over the next 25 years.

Today, there is a wind rattling the stalks of bamboo. When the wind stops there is silence.

There are no birds - the people have eaten them along with most of the wild cats and monkeys.

Luther and Johnny were discovered three years ago by a television crew looking for the students who had fled after taking over the Burmese embassy in Bangkok.

The cameras found the students in the camp of the twins, who were nine at the time, and the myth of the guerrilla children who were scarcely big enough to hold an M16 rifle was born. In Canada, a retired Playboy bunny offered to adopt them. A website, johnnyandluther.com, was registered.

Then, the twins disappeared in the jungle. Now, they keep disappearing in the middle of a question to slide down the river bank on a cardboard box.

Their army is an army of orphans, their camp a mobile foster home for the remnants of the Karen people's 50-year fight for independence against the Burmese.

At the end of 1998, God's Army had 500 soldiers and Johnny and Luther were reported to be working miracles. Landmines were jumping up in front of them and their soldiers could brush off bullets.

The Baptist preachers who had brought Christianity to the Burmese jungle 100 years ago also brought the cult of deliverance to a destroyed people. The Karen needed saviours.

In March 1997, in the Htaw Maimaw district of eastern Burma, a pastor brought two illiterate nine- year-olds to the military chief and said the Lord had spoken to them and they would save the Karen.

News of the visitation passed through an area where the Burmese army was cracking down hard after the Karen had killed eight pipeline workers.

The military chief gave the children a "pistol complete with bullets", says the pastor, Thah Hpay, who also went with the twins to their first battle.

He said: "That morning there were 20 men there and our commander, Luther, shouted 'God's Army!' and everyone shouted back 'God's Army!'."

After successes in battle, the myth of divine salvation was born and the cult of the twins began to grow.

The old Karen military had become corrupt and the twins represented purity. Luther says: "I shoot the Burmese because of what they do to our people.

"They beat and rape Karen women, they steal and burn our houses. Some holy thing touched my heart and I became a soldier."

"How did the holy thing touch you. Did it come in the night?", I ask.

"No, in the day."

"Would you like to go in an airplane and see the world outside the jungle?"

"No, I want to stay here with my people. In my homeland, in my own area."

"What do you do all day?"

"I play - at fake battles, shooting birds."

"When was your last real battle?"

"A month ago. We were gathering chillies and saw a Burmese army patrol. We killed two of them."

"Do you miss your mother?"

"Yes." She is in a refugee camp on the Thai border. "But I love my people more." Luther is bored now with questions and wants to play with the tape recorder.

He said: "Give it to me and I will take it into the battle. I will tape the sounds of fighting on the battlefield and when we capture a Burmese soldier, I will ask him questions and give it to you."

Across the river that marks the Burma-Thailand border, Dr Bill Greiser, of the Christian fundamentalist group Strategic World Impact, is one of the few aid workers treating the Karen who have escaped.

He said: "These people suffer from exhaustion and stress from being continually on the move.

"There's malaria and malnutrition, but mostly they are chronically depressed - they've been running like this for years."

It is Rambo's job to translate the scriptures that the illiterate Luther can't read.

He opens his Bible and reads from the Book of Corinthians. When Luther is faced with a difficult question, he turns to Rambo. On philosophical matters he is vague.

He says: "I say my prayers and the Lord inspires me."

"What prayers do you say?"

"I can't remember them."

"Why did God choose you and your brother?"

Luther looks puzzled, so Rambo says: "God chooses the weakest to do his best for the people."

On military matters, Luther is more precise. He says: "We have lost 13 soldiers. I am not afraid. I am serving my people."

"Have you been wounded?"

"No, the Lord has protected me."

Beneath his eye is a round scar. "We were playing with bamboo," he says.

Johnny, who is in charge of supplies and logistics, plays with a catapult.

Even with God behind them, Luther and Johnny Htoo can't fight the gas pipeline that brought 21,000 soldiers to their land.

At least 30,000 Karen have died in the military's secret genocide against them.

Johnny and Luther have tired of sliding on the cardboard box, so the saviours of the Karen people leave their guns on the bank and start splashing in the river.

Over the last two years, the soldiers of God's Army have began to drift away to find work in the fishing ports in Thailand.

Luther says: "There are about 20 of us now."

But most of those 20 are children.

Rambo said: "If the army finds Luther and Johnny they will kill them."

He looks like a man who would die trying to stop that happen. And he may have to.
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Author:O&apos, Maggie
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jul 28, 2000
Words:1137
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